Pakistan batting legend Hanif Mohammad passed away at a Karachi hospital on Thursday after a brief fight back, when doctors claim he was revived after no heartbeat was felt for six minutes.
However, a few hours later, the doctors pronounced the talismanic batsman of the 1950s and 1960s was no more. Well, it was always going to be difficult to break through his defence. In a career spanning over 17 years, Hanif only played 55 Tests but notched up 3915 runs at an average of 43.98. To put that into perspective, Virat Kohli is taking part in his 43rd Test after being handed his debut in 2011 and has scored 3238 runs so far.
Hanif made his debut against India at New Delhi in 1952 and scored a half-century in his very first innings. Eight years later, when Pakistan toured India for a five-match series, he had become the backbone of the Pakistan batting.
As the arch-rivals began action in the first Test at Mumbai, there were two significant scenarios in the two dressing rooms. The Indians were getting ready to take the field under new captain Nari Contractor while their neighbours were hoping Hanif would recover from a toe injury. Contractor was the eighth and youngest Indian captain, since the 1954-55 series, when they last played Pakistan.
“Hanif was battling a toe injury before the series and was almost certain not to take part. However, when his name featured on the team sheet, I went up to Fazal (Mahmood) and told him I won’t allow Hanif a runner unless he’s hit on the same place again,” Contractor told HT. “I didn’t know if I should speak my mind as I was appointed captain only for the first two matches.”
Hanif went on to score a staggering 160, duly supported by Saeed Ahmed, who scored 121. The two would go on to become future captains. Hanif was run out, perhaps the only way he could be dismissed that day, and Pakistan fell from 301/2 to 350 all out. “We tried to hurl bouncers at him and he would guide them with ease over midwicket and deep square leg. It was a flawless innings,” said Contractor. “You could probably bowl anything at him and he would collect runs. However, in Delhi, we got him out in a stupid manner after bowling a few bouncers at him. It was as if he didn’t know how to play bouncers.”
Chandu Borde, who was part of that squad, said: “It was an extremely courageous innings. To play against India, when there’s so much pressure on and off the field, it was always going to be difficult. And here he was, scoring 160 at ease. It was a brilliant innings. No wonder he went on to become one of the world’s best.”
Speaking on the pressure the teams had to deal with, he said: “The second Test was in Kanpur. In those days, we used to travel by train and the Punjab Mail used to reach around 6.30pm. We reached the hotel, and (usually) fans used to send greetings and they would be kept ready for us. I picked up a card and the fan had written how he was a great fan of mine and the team and so on. However, the concluding lines were: Remember you are playing against Pakistan. If you can’t win, draw the game. If you lose, we’ll kill you. That was the level of fanaticism.”
The five-match series failed to produce a single result and was part of 13 consecutive drawn games between them.
“In our days, a batsman was judged by how well he left the delivery outside off-stump. That is where Hanif stood out,” Contractor added. “He was immensely focused regarding his game, knew how to build his innings and wouldn’t lose his concentration once he was settled. That’s probably what helped him leave a mark.” Borde said: “He was technically sound and was an extremely patient cricketer.”
The best example of Hanif’s grit and determination was reserved for the all-conquering West Indies. In the first Test of the 1957/58 series in Barbados, Pakistan were forced to follow-on and were trailing by 473 runs when he opened the innings with Imtiaz Ahmed. With an innings defeat looking imminent, Hanif scored 337 over the next 970 minutes to steer his team to a draw.